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Democrats Should Embrace DC Statehood

July 4th, 2020 by dk
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Joe Biden should go all in on statehood for Washington, DC. It will further both voter empowerment and Black Lives Matter. It will also energize voters in non-swing states and could give Democrats an enduring advantage. Don’t think for a moment that Republicans wouldn’t seize these advantages if they were theirs.

Republicans have made disenfranchising voters a surprisingly bold keystone of their electoral strategy. They advocate fewer polling locations, shorter hours, longer lines — each designed to increase the inconvenience of voting. They want fewer participants in what they still call democracy.

Before the Trump era, they did the extra work to maintain a pretense about why their policy preferences suppress voter turnout. They pretended to be concerned about fraud or public expense or private responsibility or local autonomy. Not anymore. Now they are Marie Kondo converts, banishing the clutter of voters who don’t give them joy.

Against that backdrop, Biden’s endorsement of DC statehood would paint a stark contrast. Our nation’s capital has more residents than Wyoming or Vermont. Its residents pay more in taxes collectively than 22 other states. They bear all the burdens of citizenship, while being denied democracy’s most basic privilege.

Our nation was founded on a protest that still applies to residents of the District of Columbia. Their license plates are embossed with “Taxation Without Representation.” When President Trump called in the National Guard to protect the White House against protesters, he didn’t need the governor’s agreement, because DC has no governor.

Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser responded by changing one of the only things she could. She renamed a street near the protests as “Black Lives Matter Plaza” and she authorized a street mural that has been replicated in Eugene and dozens of other cities. Did I mention that the majority of DC residents are Black? That shouldn’t matter, but it does.

Last week, the House of Representatives voted to make Washington our 51st state. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell promised to bring the bill to the Senate floor sometime after the sun has cooled. No surprise there. No state in the union is as heavily Democratic as the District. Trump garnered 4 percent of the District’s 2016 votes.

It’s safe to say that DC’s statehood would add two Democratic Senators and one additional Democrat in the House. Admission to the union usually requires a two-thirds endorsement from both houses of Congress. Or a Constitutional Convention, requiring support of statehouses across the country.

If Democrats across the country believed that the route for DC’s statehood might require support from their state legislatures, downballot campaigns would gain national significance. Every Democratic vote would be worth fighting for, even in states where the electoral votes were not in play. 

Inviting DC’s 700,000 residents into the union would strike a much belated blow for democracy — and for Democrats. Any initiative that drives voter enthusiasm and turnout should please Democrats and worry Republicans. Decisive wins  in November could add stars to Old Glory — plural.

DC deserves to be first, but Democrats should continue adding sympathetic Senators by inviting Puerto Rico and Guam into the union as well.

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at www.dksez.com.

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“Civil War” Ends in Oregon — Tell the Supreme Court

July 3rd, 2020 by dk
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Oregon never meant for its Civil War sport rivalries to be taken seriously. The games, yes, but the name, no. Only Oregonians can keep a straight face when pondering whether Ducks or Beavers are more fearsome. Before roads were reliable, college-bound students tended to stay close to home.

Corvallis or Eugene? Parents might have though there was barely a spit of difference between them, until the games began. Then it was like the war that tore families apart, rent by competing loyalties.

It’ll be fun dreaming up new names for the series, especially because the “Civil War” moniker was popularized in the 1930s by Portland newspaper columnist L. H. Gregory. (He’s also credited with “Tall Firs” and “Webfoots.”)

But this column is not about good sports. It’s about sore losers.

With all due respect to Gregory, after our real Civil War was fought, we should have left it at that. Instead, we re-litigate the conflict as if it’s recreation for some, which it literally is. The best reason for dropping the name is to break that bad habit.

The habit does seem to be breaking, like a fever that left us delirious for a century and a half. Mississippi will change its flag. NASCAR emblems are adapting. Pigeons see fewer Confederate war heroes from above. We might even rename our own county, ending another glorification of a Confederate leader. The rebels did lose, after all.

News of the union’s victory didn’t reach parts of Texas until Juneteenth, long after the war ended. In a similar way, news of the South’s defeat has been slow to arrive in certain areas. Or it did arrive, only to be forgotten, again and again. This has produced a Sore Loser Syndrome that keeps us from moving forward together as a nation.

Losers can stay Americans, but they should be forced to admit they lost. That’s what must be required for a civil society. We cannot endlessly re-litigate our past battles and expect to move forward together.

Our bad habit of re-litigating reaches the highest corners of our nation. Let me take you now to the United States Supreme Court, where nine justices should have unanimously rejected a literal re-litigation, but they didn’t.

Four years ago, the Supreme Court ruled that a Texas law was unconstitutional because it would have closed virtually ever abortion clinic in the state, under the guise of protecting the health of the mother. It was narrowly decided 5-4, but it was decided.

Sore Loser Syndrome took hold when neighboring Louisiana wrote a law that was almost identical to the Texas law and they rushed it to the Supreme Court, hoping for a different decision on the exact same issue.

Fortunately, Chief Justice John Roberts joined the four so-called liberal justices to make sure Louisiana received the same outcome as Texas, even though he had voted in favor of the Texas law in 2016. 

Unlike an intrastate sports rivalry, Supreme Court battles shouldn’t be repeated over and over, just for the fun of it. Let winners be gracious and losers be not sore.

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at www.dksez.com.

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Biden Can Make It Competence Vs Corruption

June 27th, 2020 by dk
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Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden promises to restore honor, stability and normalcy to the White House, if he’s elected in November. COVID-19 has restricted what would normally constitute a presidential campaign. Biden is raising money better than he’s raising awareness.

Whether you love our current President or hate him, everybody is talking about Trump’s campaign rally in Tulsa. It created high levels of “engagement.” There’s no such thing as bad publicity. News about about Mary Elizabeth Taylor went unnoticed. If the Democrats run a shrewd presidential campaign, you may hear her name often.

Taylor was the assistant secretary of state for legislative affairs, after serving the Trump administration and campaign in a variety of other roles. She submitted her resignation the day before the Tulsa rally to protest “comments and actions surrounding racial injustice.” Her letter ended, “I must follow the dictates of my conscience and resign.”

Few others have been so bold in their resignations, though there have been an unprecedented number of them. Pity the poor family of former Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis. His resignation letter didn’t state that he wanted to spend more time with them.

“Protest resignations” — yes, that’s a thing — have more commonly come from the non-political ranks of the civil service. Many have quit after political appointees arrived with strong ideas about how the professionals should do their jobs.

In many but not all cases, these protest resignations are not based on partisan disagreements. What the exiting employees find objectionable is the incompetence and the corruption. Some have sought whistleblower protections, but not many. Like it or not, Washington, DC operates as a small town. Reputations are not easily repaired.

Trump’s supporters and enablers delight in these resignations. They believe less government is better. Bad government serves their purposes better than good government. Having fewer competent workers thins the bureaucracy. Expertise is always suspect. Extremist on the political right rail against the so-called “deep state.”

They chant “drain the swamp” while the rest of America sees a dangerous brain drain that leaves the federal government unable to function normally. It’s into this breach that Biden can bring the battle. Honor, stability, and normalcy are leaking away, bit by bit.

Biden should announce that any civil servant who resigns under protest in the coming four months will be considered for reinstatement (with seniority restored) once he enters the White House.

How many federal government workers would welcome the opportunity to take a break from government service unless and until competent adults return to lead their departments? You have no idea how dispirited the rank-and-file has become under Trump’s lack of leadership. A short sabbatical would be a very attractive option.

Democrats could characterize the mass exodus as another protest march — this one by professionals choosing competence over corruption.

Freed from their necessarily non-partisan role as government employees, they could speak freely about what they saw. They could work diligently for new leadership. And Biden could keep a running tally of how many people have witnessed how badly government is performing, who want to see things change.

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at www.dksez.com.

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Here’s How Businesses Can Support BLM Quickly

June 26th, 2020 by dk
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Your bosses responded to the current civic unrest by painting “Black Lives Matter” on the business’s windows. They understand it’s only a token gesture and they have to do more. They have pledged to review hiring and promotion practices, creating a workplace that roots out racial and economic injustices. Those corrections take time.

What else can they do right now that matches the urgency of this moment? The suggestion box is waiting to be filled. Your company should declare Tuesday, November 3rd — and every national Election Day — a paid holiday for all its workers. Close the doors for that day, because there’s something more important to do than work.

It’s sad but true that our state and national governments have lost their ability to lead. Many business owners are trying to take up the slack. When it comes to minimum wages, office recycling, alternative commute strategies, they aren’t waiting for our leaders. They are showing the way.

If the business you work for announces that no work will be done on Election Day, other businesses will follow. Once it becomes a talking point at the Downtown Athletic Club, the idea will spread as fast as —. (No, let’s not go there.) But what if your bosses don’t want to stop there? There’s still room in that suggestion box.

They can allow a voter registration table to be set up in the break room. Oregon leads the nation with the first voter-motor law. Registering to vote here is so easy, it’s almost automatic. But not everybody drives. Some out-of-staters don’t get an Oregon drivers license right away. Or they do, and then they move, invalidating their voter registration.

Of course, registering to vote is not the goal. Voting is what matters. Your employer could make that point by hosting a watch party — or multiple watch parties, if necessary — on the evening of Election Day, so that employees can enjoy this company benefit together. You can cheer together any uptick in voter turnout, regardless of who wins.

Businesses think of themselves as non-political. Good for them. An inclusive workplace prohibits political statements. But that’s not quite right. Partisan messages speak for only one side. Genuine political messages speak for the whole. Voting is the goal  of these suggestions — not campaigning for one side. We’re all equal at the dropbox.

Endorsing voter registration is not partisan. It’s citizenship. And if the voter registration table in the lunchroom is accepted, then ask to do the same in the lobby or sidewalk. Vendors and customers will welcome the message that this is a company that empowers people.

Because that’s what this is really all about — empowerment. Marching in the streets, chanting slogans, toppling statues are fervent attempts to reset the power equation. Collective action exerts power. Engaged employees make suggestions. Enlightened shoppers leverage their buying decisions. We must wield our collective power with care.

We have many paths to empowerment. One celebrates our origins and points to a brighter future — voting. Government authorities don’t always have a suggestion box outside their offices. But they have something that’s roughly equivalent — the ballot box.

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at www.dksez.com.

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Athletes as Leaders

June 19th, 2020 by dk
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Have you noticed where leadership is emerging, as our nation convulses toward some sort of reckoning with its past? State and city leaders do not have a nationwide audience, and messaging from Washington has been mixed at best. The voices rising above the chaos are coming from professional athletes.

You may have noticed some of these voices, without recognizing a pattern. Redemptive energy is coming from football, boxing, basketball (twice), and stock car racing.

If you think it’s no big deal that NASCAR has renounced the Confederate flag, you haven’t spent much time in the rural midwest or the deep south. In the land of Dixie, summer isn’t summarized with apple pie and baseball. It’s all about Stars and Bars and muscle cars.

I attended the Indianapolis 500 several times in my youth. Although the speedway was only a three-hour drive from Chicago, we learned to leave the afternoon before the race. Traffic would be backed up for 20 miles in every direction. We’d get nearby before dark, park on the street once we had our place in line, enter the speedway a little after dawn, and sleep through most of the race — us and 300,000 others.

Confederate flags won’t disappear from race tracks. People will still bring the flag and celebrate their heritage in their own way, but they won’t be watching that flag race in circles before them. It won’t adorn any of their racing heroes. It will remain part of individual expression, but no longer part of the collective experience.

Basketball players have also stepped up. Michael Jordan committed $100 million to causes devoted to racial and social justice. LeBron James will organize voter registration drives. WNBA players negotiated their explicit right to take public stands against injustices they encounter.

This current drive for athletic self-expression began when Colin Kaepernick began kneeling during the national anthem. He wanted to call attention to police violence against communities of color. For that stance, Kaepernick was ostracized from football. It has also made him a superstar beyond the sport.

When the commissioner for the NFL announced that the league was wrong to prohibit such displays of conviction, he didn’t mention Kaepernick’s name. He didn’t need to. Everybody knew who was the victor. Kaepernick may never play professional football again, but he’s winning a much bigger battle.

Finally, there was one more sports hero who may have escaped your notice. Floyd Mayweather was a professional prizefighter for 20 years, winning major world titles in five weight classes. He retired a few years ago, but reacted swiftly to the brutal death of George Floyd. He immediately offered to cover all expenses related to Floyd’s funeral.

Mayweather’s contribution created lasting impressions. The eulogy was delivered by a nationally known activist. Family members of other brutalized blacks who were in attendance. The casket was taken to the cemetery by a horse-drawn carriage. The grief was riveting. It focused the country’s attention like nothing else.

As sport gingerly re-enters the national consciousness, athletes will attempt to sustain Americans’ attention on this issue in the months and years ahead.

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at www.dksez.com.

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Eugene’s New City Manager Saved the City a Bundle

June 19th, 2020 by dk
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Nine months ago, I suggested the city of Eugene might want to skip an expensive and time-consuming national executive search, and simply give the city manager job to the person who had been groomed for it by the outgoing city manager.

Sarah Medary has been Eugene’s city manager pro-tem since Jon Ruiz retired last fall. The city council this week voted unanimously to drop the suffix from her title and give her the permanent position without a widened search. There was no dissent.

City council meetings on Zoom reminds me of watching Hollywood Squares when I was a kid. I never know which of the council’s three white men will be channeling Paul Lynde’s penchant for quips and zingers. When they do and they happen to fill the center box on my screen, I find myself craving my mother’s grilled cheese sandwiches. (Hint: butter both sides of the bread.)

Unlike Hollywood Squares, there wasn’t much drama about how Monday’s episode would end. A couple of councilors suggested a nationwide search would be disingenuous, given the strength of support Medary has from staff, council, and across the community. Mayor Lucy Vinis confided after the decision that she was “counting on it.”

Many councilors cited the host of challenges that the city has faced over the past few months — pandemic, economic slowdown, civil unrest, curfews. Nobody said that everything has been done perfectly under Medary’s watch, but decisions were made with transparency, empathy and urgency.

Councilor Mike Clark started the discussion, saying Medary had been “baptized by fire” from recent events. Mayor Vinis ended the session by suggesting Medary had “endured the hardest interview process ever.” In between, many councilors echoed similar sentiments.

Medary herself had recommended that the city open up the process to a full search. Councilor Claire Syrett responded: “I hope that Sarah can get used to council taking a different track than the one that she is suggesting, because this is probably going to be a regular part of the job.”

Medary has been writing a letter each Friday to staff and the community. Last week, she wrote this, in response to the crescendo of cries to curb police violence: “I am committed to being a leader of that reform, regardless of my position with the City of Eugene.”

In that simple statement, she demonstrated the courage necessary to meet this moment. She made clear her commitment to this city and to the process of reform. Most tellingly, she promised to keep those commitments, even if she was passed over for the job. That’s genuine leadership.

Councilors ended the session looking for some sort of gesture to Medary for making their choice an easy one. A bonus wouldn’t feel right during economic hardship, but Medary’s appointment saves the city somewhere around $40,000. That’s roughly what a nationwide executive search would have cost. (Councilor Chris Pryor estimated $10,000 more. Springfield recently spent $10,000 less.)

Councilors should ask their new city manager where she would personally like to see those funds invested. And, at least this one time, they should do exactly as she suggests.

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at www.dksez.com.

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Leaders Are Built, Not Born

June 13th, 2020 by dk
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Leaders are not born. They are built by the movements they have been chosen to lead. Dr. Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. had barely a year in the pulpit when outrage over Emmett Till’s mutilation led his neighbors and parishioners to begin the Montgomery bus boycott.

Who will rise up to meet this moment?

It will almost certainly be someone  whose name we don’t yet know. King was 26 when the bus boycott began. He was almost 28 when the Supreme Court ruled that segregated buses were unconstitutional. Young people are better built for the long, hard work ahead.

Those who worked in the Occupy movement are quick to say that no leader is necessary. The decentralized Internet has made Al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups function with less reliance on a single leader.  Indeed, a leaderless movement is much harder to stop. It cannot be decapitated if there is no recognizable head. Assassination is too great a risk.

They may be right, except for the remaining power of our mainstream news organizations. They simply don’t know how to sustain an audience’s attention without focusing on a single leader. Social media is emerging as a powerful alternative, but it is still fueled largely by legacy news coverage.

Witness the recent coverage of COVID-19. The White House formed a task force to monitor the pandemic’s progress. The committee may have been active, but not visibly so. Only after New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s daily briefing became must-see viewing did the story of the pandemic really break into the national consciousness.

Dynamic leadership upsets the status quo. In the early 1960s, television news was only 15 minutes long. When Dr. King’s rallies and marches captivated the nation, Walter Cronkite implored his bosses at CBS to double his newscast to 30 minutes. NBC followed immediately. ABC resisted for over a year before finally doing the same.

Local Black Lives Matter protests have already identified a half dozen new voices that are rising to meet the moment. None of them are older than King was when he began. Other cities are seeing a similar dynamic. It’s young people who simply will not be denied. We should support them every way we can, mostly by letting them lead us.

Former President Barack Obama cannot lead the movement for justice and equality that is just beginning to form, but he can help identify and promote a leader who may be emerging. Oprah Winfrey hasn’t written any best-sellers, but she has created dozens with her recommendations. Obama’s endorsement would have a similar effect.

Former presidents often have an outsized impact on issues that matter to them. Jimmy Carter raised awareness about the need for affordable housing without becoming the leader of Habitat for Humanity. Racism and police violence are much more difficult topics, but Obama always said he wanted to be a transformational character. This may be a better opportunity than anything he did while he was living in the White House.

Obama always kept his focus on the arc of America. Who will paint the picture of what’s possible for us?

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at www.dksez.com.

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How to Turbocharge Black Lives Matter

June 12th, 2020 by dk
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Rage and reflection don’t play well together. Rage brings all-consuming urgency and laser-like focus. Reflection looks longer and wider, noticing nuance. A deep response to social injustice will require both.

Four former police officers face charges related to the murder of George Floyd. Two of them, Thomas Lane and J. Alexander Kueng, were rookies. They exited their probationary period shortly before tragedy befell Floyd. They had been policing the streets of Minneapolis for exactly four days.

Derek Chauvin, on the other hand, was a 19-year veteran and held the rank of training officer. Tou Thao had been a Minneapolis cop for 11 years. Both Chauvin and Thao have multiple complaints in their personnel file, averaging almost one per year.

The video that we’ve all seen — or heard about, for those who can’t bear to watch — was taken by 17-year-old Darnella Frazier. One particularly damning detail is the apparent nonchalance of Chauvin. He could see that he was being filmed, but he didn’t alter his behavior at all.

It was almost as if Chauvin was in training mode, patiently instructing two rookies how to properly execute the carotid sleeper hold to induce unconsciousness. His black gloves make it look like his left hand is in his pocket, waiting casually. His posture reminds me of a man waiting for a waffle iron to announce that breakfast is ready.

Lane twice asked if they should roll Floyd over. Chauvin refused. As Lane’s lawyer argued at the sentencing hearing, “What was my client supposed to do but follow what his training officer said?” After the video stopped, Lane gave Floyd CPR in the ambulance.

We should keep these two pairs of cops separate. Their culpabilities do not compare. Reflection also will benefit from some history. Frazier’s impromptu documentary has made George Floyd the Emmett Till of the digital generation.

In 1955, 14-year-old Till allegedly whistled at white woman in a Mississippi grocery store. For this infraction — roughly equivalent to using a counterfeit $20 bill to buy cigarettes in Minneapolis — Till was lynched and brutalized.

The story might have ended there, except for two decisions. Till’s mother insisted on an open-casket funeral, so everyone could see her child’s mutilated corpse. Jet, a weekly newsmagazine for predominantly black readers, published photos from the funeral that shocked the nation.

Time Magazine named one of those photographs among the “most influential images of all time.” The brutality outraged millions, including Rosa Parks. The Montgomery bus boycott followed, led by a new Baptist preacher in town with a gift for eloquence — Dr. Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Rage met reflection.

Two senseless killings. Two open caskets. Two viral photographs. Two nationwide demonstrations of outrage. Here’s where these two stories have not yet converged, but they could. Do you want to turbocharge the Black Lives Matter movement? History has shown us how.

If Floyd’s family and the protesters publicly forgave those two rookie cops, it would do more than send a powerful message. It would harness the power of love that Martin Luther King preached and modeled: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at www.dksez.com.

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No More Incremental Change

June 6th, 2020 by dk
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After Secret Service agents forcibly displaced peaceful protesters from Lafayette Square so that President Trump could stroll from the White House to have his photo taken in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church, the church’s members voiced outrage. Rt. Rev. Mariann Budde, the Episcopal bishop of Washington, called the president’s actions “antithetical to the teachings of Jesus.”

Episcopalians are big on hierarchy, so next came the Most Rev. Michael B. Curry. He is the Presiding Bishop of the U.S.-based Episcopal Church and its 1.7 million members. He exhorted a nationwide audience to seek higher ground on the issue at hand.

A year ago, the Harvard Business Review profiled Curry’s leadership style, asking him how he brings all sides together when faced with a divisive issue. His answer: “If there’s a point of commonality — however small it may be — affirm that first, and then build from there.”

Let’s try it.

What do civil rights protesters and anti-capitalism activists have in common with those who voted for Donald Trump? Each group in its own way has given up on incremental change. Each is determined to overthrow the status quo.

Ideal incrementalism asks so little from each that the burden — the actual change — is imperceptible. It’s not hard to ask for trust when the cost appears to be nothing. Incrementalism cannot correct systemic flaws. Until the status quo is stripped of status, it will keep its quo. Things will stay mostly the same.

As The Daily Show’s host Trevor Noah pointed out, the current outrage against racism did not begin when George Floyd was strangled by a police officer’s knee. It began a few days earlier, when a white woman in Central Park refused to leash her dog.

A black man who was birdwatching asked her to follow the park rules. She then called 911 and claimed that a black man was threatening her. She was placing a metaphorical knee on that man’s neck. She was confident the system would side with her.

When we saw Officer Derek Chauvin, with one hand in his pocket, ignore entreaties from George Floyd, it was more of the same. We could see the pattern. Both the dog walker and the police officer knew the system wouldn’t change on its own.

Donald Trump promised big changes to society if he got elected. He has delivered on that promise. That makes his followers happy, because disruption is what they wanted. It’s always satisfying to get what you were expecting. They barely notice that most of those drastic changes help the very wealthy and hurt the very poor.

The riots we’ve witnessed this week show a combustible mix of two rages. Don’t try to separate racial and economic injustices. Recognize how our systems perpetuate both. America’s last great leader did.

Martin Luther King, Jr. was widening his crusade to include all poor people. And then he was assassinated. We haven’t moved from where he left us. Status quo is still so.

Only large changes will meet the mood of this moment. Incremental change is no longer on the overturned table.

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at www.dksez.com.

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Two Floyd-Inspired Changes (One’s for You)

June 5th, 2020 by dk
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It’s been years since Eugene assembled peaceful protests as large as we’ve seen this week. And it’s been decades since any of our after-dark assemblages turned violent in such a coordinated way. That phone alert that interrupted our sleep Monday night was a (literal) wake-up call. Things have changed, and not for the better.

More importantly, we must recognize what many of our less fortunate neighbors see. For them, the issue at hand is not what’s changed, but what hasn’t changed at all.

Police violence hasn’t changed. Unequal opportunities haven’t changed. Widespread acceptance of the status quo hasn’t changed. Our tepid response when tragedy strikes  a community of color hasn’t changed. And our ability to imagine a better alternative hasn’t changed.

For those who insist that violence is not the answer, I agree with you, but you’ve arrived late to the conversation. Every instance of racism and bigotry is an act of violence. Every refusal to fix the system abets the violence visited on those the system oppresses. Every plea for patience without a plan is a violent request, inciting a violent response. Ignorance does not confer innocence.

I have two suggestions. One is large and one is small.

The longest background check interview I ever participated in was for a friend who wanted to be a Eugene police officer. They had me on the phone for nearly an hour, asking me a hundred questions about my friend’s background, his character, and how I’d seen him react in certain situations.

He got the job, and then spent about a year in training before he was ever asked to interact with the public alone with his badge. Eugene follows best practices for recruiting, hiring, and training its force. But those best practices draw heavily from a military model. Community policing doesn’t look like war. It looks like social work.

Police training has too much insularity. That builds camaraderie within the force, but it blunts the edges of empathy. Where does training end and indoctrination begin? We hear too often about a few “rotten apples.” Nobody ever talks about how a closed container spreads the rot to other apples nearby.

Send rookie cops out into the community as soon as they are hired. Give them the uniform and the badge, but not the gun. Let them experience how the public treats them differently. Then they won’t need veterans to warn them how it will be. If training leads with empathy, policing will be practiced differently.

Here’s a change that you and I can make. Stop saying what’s “not acceptable” or “not OK.” Those phrases paint you out of the picture, when we need you very much in the picture. Express your feelings and exhibit your resolve in an active voice. Take responsibility for the part you play and contribute as you are able to making necessary changes.

Saying that something “is not acceptable” has a regal ring. Can you hear it? Imagine a dismissive hand gesture, sweeping away something that barely deserves your attention. That’s how it sounds to those in pain you. It subtly makes things worse.

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at www.dksez.com.

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